The USA as seen by the French (#4)
 The Americans the "French Democrats" like the most   America as seen by the French in history

 Le Nouvel Observateur is a weekly magazine which could be considered the French equivalent of Time or Newsweek. Its circulation is around 600,000. It is politically on the (moderate) left wing, a French equivalent of Democrat. In a recent issue (Jan.22, 2004) it ran a cover story on the theme " The America we love ­ There is not only the America of Bush" and it is interesting to see which American personalities it mentions, devoting between one column and a page to each of them :

  • " The neo-populists " : Michael Moore (with his picture on the cover) & Jim Hightower
  • " The joker " : Howard Dean
  • " The radicals " : Barbara Ehrenreich & Ralph Nader
  • " The subversives " : Naomi Klein, Trey Parker & Matt Stone
  • " The new economists " : Paul Krugman
  • " The cyber-anarchists " : Elie Pariser & Richard Stallman
  • " The alternatives " : Lori Wallach & Jeremy Rifkin
  • " The new feminists " : Catherine MacKinnon & Gayle Rubin
  • " The moralists " : Alfred Ross & Barry Lynn
  • " The dissidents " : Mitchell Cohen, Michael Walzer, John Podesta & Bob Boorstin
  • " The Culture rebels " : Sean Penn, Don DeLillo, Chuck Palahniuk, Jay McInerney, Bret Easton Ellis, Dave Eggers, Nan Goldin, R.L.Burnside, Ani DiFranco, Marilyn Manson & Eminem
The magazine's view is not shared by everybody in France and most of the people cited are little known or unknown but it is interesting to consider the choice made by a respected magazine, with a large circulation among the " intellectuels ".
 
  • 18th Century (Voltaire, Buffon) writers saw America as "the cold continent", inhospitable, where animal species are smaller than on other continents and men too, where dogs do not bark (this is not a joke, this ridiculous image was shared all over Europe!), etc ; in a well-known anecdote, Benjamin Franklin, then US embassador in Paris, invited the most notorious French writers and lined them along the wall with the American guests, who were much taller... (read about this anecdote). This kind of stupid vision was shared all over Europe, even by highly regarded scientists.

  • The 19th Century (Baudelaire being a typical example of this anti-Americanism) is the age of the myth of "the ungrateful Yankee" : arrogant, thinking only of money, no manners, etc... and the conspiracy of American businessmen and bankers to take over the world, no gratitude for the help provided by France for the Independence of the USA (it sounds familiar, doesn't it?). More about gratitude.

  • With the 20th Century, comes the "fear of the hyper-power" : Roger dates this new form of anti-Americanism from the invasion of Cuba in 1898 as the first time the USA became a threat for an European country ; later, with the influence of USSR and communism on European "intellectuels" America became, for the left wing (and typically Sartre), the symbol of imperialism, but this was very controversial and in the 1950-1960s the left-wing anti-Americanism was not shared by all "intellectuels" : the controversies between Sartre and Raymond Aron illustrate it.

  • See a short bibliography

   (credit)

In a time of mutual French- bashing and anti- Americanism, articles like this present a non-stereotypical face of the U.S. most French people never read or hear about.

Other very popular American figures include B.Obama (of course), Clint Eastwood, etc...

 

Contrary to what many Americans believe, the image of the USA is very good (62% favorable) and the French have a relatively good knowledge of the country and of its culture, certainly much better than the knowledge of France by Americans. See more about American insularity.

WARNING ! As emphasized in several pages of this site, the image of America and Americans is very positive in France and it is easy to see that the French love American movies, the American way of life etc.. and admire American society ; it is also a fact, which must be stressed too, that Americans, as persons, are considered very friendly and NEVER subject to aggressive behavior from French people. Nevertheless, European and French anti-Americanism does exist and it has taken, throughout history, several forms in largely spread stereotypes : they are summarized in this section.

 What is the popular image the French have of America?   What the French do not understand about America and Americans....

America is a huge continent, with a variety of people and of situations but, from a foreign country like France, only a few caricatures of them make up the image of America (the French have no idea how big and varied the country is).
Among the most stereotyped visions of America, some negative, most positive :

  • A country of big cities : New York, with its skyscrapers, THE image of America, San Francisco, probably the city the French like the most, Chicago, associated with the image of Al Capone, fire-trucks and their sirens, etc

  • A country of big people : the French cannot believe the number of obese people they see in the streets

  • Powerful characters : John Wayne, the lonesome cowboy, valiant and hearty (but in France, cow-boys are always associated with Indians, seen as victims of the latter)

  • A powerful culture : the richness of the music (folk, jazz, rock,..), Cambridge Mass. and the beauty of American campuses, Hollywood, etc.... Read about American artists the French like the most.

  • Imported consumer products, which are OUR image of America here and which are not always the best of America : fast food (McDonald's : see José Bové), TV series (daily adventures of stupid Californian kids), etc....

  • A country of high criminality : reinforced by American popular culture (TV, films, mystery stories) and statistics : 8 times more people in jail per 1000 inhabitants in the USA (see figures).

     

 
  • Gun control : The American attitude regarding guns is impossible to understand by the French (and probably by anybody outside the US). Who can reasonably believe that owning an AK 47 can protect you and reduce the crime rate ?

  • The constant mix of moral pretexts and political or business issues (an example : to try to eliminate the French train company in a bid, a Californian politician and a few lobbyists demanding an apology for its alleged complicity with Nazi crimes : read more about it)

  • Trials : the judicial system is very different (see French judicial system) (but now, influenced by US TV programs, young delinquents have started calling the judge "Your Honor " instead of "Monsieur le Président")

  • More to come ....

A few examples of Americans situations that baffle the French because they have no equivalent in France:

  • The mix of formality and informality : high school ceremonies, with all the girls dressed up, everybody eating and drinking in paper cups, formal speeches and relaxed behavior, etc...

  • An example : The President of the USA in cow-boy boots. In 2003, when George W.Bush invited his G-8 colleagues to his ranch for their annual meeting, he asked them to dress casually : for the French and the Japanese - and maybe some other Europeans- it was a very insulting lack of respect to their function and Chirac came with his usual tie and suit

  • More to come

 A strong and positive popular image ! The weekly magazine Version Femina published (October 19, 2008) a very interesting survey on the image of the USA for the French. Asked about what the USA evokes spontaneously for them, they answer :

  • Globally : power (14%), New-York, George W.Bush, liberty, dollar, imperialism, etc...
  • Places : New-York (53%), the White House, Hollywood, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, Silicon Valley, etc...
  • Movie directors : Steven Spielberg (66%), Clint Eastwood, Woody Allen, Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Quentin Tarantino, etc...
  • Brand names : Coca-Cola (67%), McDonald's, Harley-Davidson, Disney, Nike, Levi's,etc...
  • Singers : Elvis Presley (59%), Madonna, Louis Armstrong, Michael Jackson, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, etc...
  • American lifestyle : fast-food (72%), basket-ball, jeans, pop-corn, tee-shirt, motels, etc...
  • TV series : Dallas (46%), Without a Trace, Desperate Housewives, Emergency Ward, Alert in Malibu, Prison Break, etc...

See

 

 Miscellaneous facts & figures :

  • Still, with almost 300,000, the largest French community abroad is in the USA : see the figures.
  • More to come...
  • Read :
    • What is making the headlines in France ?
    • A poll on the image of the USA among the French.
    • A short bibliography on America as seen by the French
To related pages : more intercultural (#1), anti-americanism (#2),intercultural management (#3), more intercultural (#5), the US press (#6), French values (#7), America and the world (#10), etc...

 

To table of contents

To top of the page 

Back to home page

For more on intercultural differences, order Harriet Welty Rochefort's books:

  • "Joie de Vivre", Secrets of Wining, Dining and Romancing like the French, St.Martin's Press, New York, 2012
  • "French Toast, An American in Paris Celebrates The Maddening Mysteries of the French", St.Martin's Press, New York, 1999
  • "French Fried, The Culinary Capers of An American in Paris", St.Martin's Press, New York, 2001

More on Harriet's books (excerpts, upcoming events, testimonials, etc..)

To email me

 If you like this site, please bookmark it or create a link!